Navigating the emotional stages of being laid off

Last updated: April 25, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Navigating the emotional stages of being laid off
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A job layoff feels like a gut punch. One minute you’re part of the working world; the next minute, you’re wondering, “What now?”

The emotional stages of being laid off can be overwhelming. You're caught in an emotional storm — anger, confusion, disbelief, even fear — and that's totally okay. Here's the good news: you're not alone.

Our team has put together this guide to walk through the emotional stages of a job layoff and how to cope with them. Plus, you'll get practical tips to springboard your job hunt and manage finances, essentially turning this setback into a path to exciting new opportunities.

Let’s get started.

What does it mean to be laid off?

A layoff is when a company decides to release workers for reasons beyond the employee's control. The reasons vary but are typically about numbers rather than performance or worthiness. Let’s break down some of the reasons:

  • Budget cuts — Unfortunately, reductions in consumer spending hit some businesses harder than others. Whether it’s because raw material prices have increased or sales have declined, it’s common for companies to cut their budgets. Sometimes, this budget cut is in the form of layoffs.

  • Company restructures — Another option for companies to save money is through restructuring. Companies look for ways to function more efficiently by changing hierarchies, shifting roles, and reorganizing workflows.

  • Market downturns — Much like budget cuts, market downturns are a result of reduced consumer spending. The difference is that market downturns happen when the stock market has a drastic decline.

As an employee, you have no control over any of these factors. However, your lack of control doesn’t make the situation feel any better.

The emotional stages of being laid off

Losing your job can bring a whirlwind of emotions. Think of it as a process similar to the stages of grief. Everyone's emotional reactions will be different, but here are the typical reactions:

Shock and denial

The sudden news of a layoff can be shocking. It's hard to wrap your head around the fact that you're losing your job. You might be questioning the implications for your career and your financial stability. That's understandable.

Anger

Once the initial shock fades, anger often steps in. You might feel resentment towards your employer or the perceived unfairness of the situation. It's important to remember that a layoff is about a company's financial decisions, not a reflection of your capabilities or performance.

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Bargaining

At this stage, you might find yourself replaying scenarios where the job could have been saved. You could think about taking a pay cut or working in a different department. These thoughts stem from a desire to regain control over a situation that is, unfortunately, beyond your control.

Depression

Losing a job can trigger feelings of worthlessness or a loss of identity. These feelings could be even more intense if your identity and your career were intertwined. You might also be worried about the future.

Be aware that these feelings are a common reaction to significant life changes. However, if these feelings persist, seek professional help. Watch for signs like continuous feelings of hopelessness or significant changes in sleep or appetite.

Acceptance

This is the point when you come to terms with your job loss. It doesn't mean you're happy about it, but you accept it as reality. You're ready to update your resume, start networking, and reenter the job market.

Remember, these stages aren't linear. You might bounce between stages, move back and forth, experience several at once, or completely skip some. That's okay. The goal isn’t to rush through your emotions but to understand they’re part of the process. They validate your feelings and remind you that you're not alone.

How you work through the emotional effect of being laid off will also depend on where you’re at in life. If you’re in the beginning years of your career, you might not have the same response as someone who’s spent years with their current employer. Don’t worry if co-workers facing the same layoff handle the situation differently.

And don't hesitate to seek professional support. Mental health providers can help if the emotional stages of being laid off feel too heavy to handle alone. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Coping strategies to help work through the emotional stages

The emotional effects of being laid off can be overwhelming. But there are some coping strategies that can help you work through the emotions.

  • Seek a support system: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family, or consider joining a support group. Find others that can give you honest feedback about your strengths and weaknesses.

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Don’t try to go it alone. Instead, use your support system to help you determine your next steps.

  • Practice mindfulness: Deep breathing, meditation, or just being present can help manage stress and anxiety. Recognizing and acknowledging your emotions can help ground you so that you can make thoughtful decisions.

  • Develop an exercise routine: A good workout can boost your mood and alleviate stress. Physical activity produces endorphins and serotonin (both mood lifters) and can distract you from negative thought streams.

  • Start journaling: Writing about your feelings and experiences can be a powerful way to process emotions. By writing, you can begin to figure out the story you’ve been telling yourself and give yourself the power to create a new path.

  • Volunteer your time: Helping others can give you a sense of purpose and achievement during a difficult time. Volunteering can also open up doors. You might find activities that you never knew you loved doing.

There are definitely some coping techniques that you don’t want to use, however. Avoid isolating yourself or ignoring your feelings. It’s also not wise to jump on social media to post complaints about your former employer or company.

And, though it might seem counterintuitive, don’t start seeking a job right away if you don’t have to. Allow yourself to process the job loss so that you can make positive choices in your job search.

Financial survival tips post layoff

Most people lose their sense of financial security and stability after a layoff. But there are ways to establish control and ward off some of the anxiety and fear. Here are some tips to help with economic uncertainty:

  • Start budgeting: Review and adjust your budget based on your new financial situation. You probably have some subscriptions you never use even though you pay for them. Find the non-essentials and remove them from your budget for now.

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  • Seek out financial assistance programs: Explore unemployment benefits, food assistance programs, or other resources available to you. If your company offers severance packages, negotiate your terms with human resources.

  • Consider side hustles: Consider picking up freelance work, part-time jobs, or gigs like survey-taking to help tide you over. Create a product to sell online, walk dogs, blog about what you love, or tap into your talents (virtual assistant, gardener, baker, etc.) — if you dedicate the time, just about anything can be a side hustle.

Practical job hunting tips

When you're ready to dive back into the job market, remember these tips:

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  • Online platforms: Use job search platforms like Jobcase to find and apply for jobs. Set up job alerts to let you know when a new job in your field is posted.

Remember that finding a job takes time. Don’t let rejections or non-responsive companies bring you down. It’s all part of the process.

Your new beginning starts here

Facing a layoff is tough, no doubt about it. You’re feeling a wide range of emotions. And whatever stage you’re in, it’s okay to feel this way.

But let's pause for a moment. You've gotten strategic tools in this article. We’ve covered the emotional stages of a layoff, coping strategies to help you keep moving, financial advice during an unstable time, and tips to start getting back into the working world.

So here's the next chapter — fresh opportunities are at your fingertips, ready for the taking. It's time to put those newfound skills to use, step confidently into the job market, and shape your future.

For more resources like this one, visit our site.

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